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Gerde’s Folk City: The End of a Greenwich Village Icon

Image courtesy of http://folkcityatfifty.blogspot.com.

Gerde’s Folk City was a Greenwich Village music venue central to the folk and rock scenes in this neighborhood for a quarter century.  Though always moving locations, the club finally came to an end on March 26, 1986 after an iconic 25-year run.  Today we take a look back at the history of this once hopping Village institution.Before Gerde’s was a music venue, it was a restaurant owned by Mike Porco that presented occasional incidental music.  On June 1, 1960 Gerde’s Folk City was officially born. First located at 11 West 4th Street (in a building which no longer exists), in 1970 it moved to 130 West 3rd Street. Many of the giants of folk performed there, including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Pete Seeger, and shows included future stars such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas and The Papas, the Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, the Youngbloods, Emmylou Harris (who also waitressed at the club), Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow, Loudon Wainwright III and many other well-known names.  In fact, Bob Dylan played his first professional gig there on April 11, 1961, supporting John Lee Hooker. Logan English was instrumental in securing Dylan his first appearance.  As Gerde’s moved into the 1970’s, many singer-songwriters of that time first found their voices there.

Poster for concert at Gerde’s featuring Bob Dylan. Image courtesy of popspotsnyc.com.

Increases in rents and changes to the neighborhood eventually lead to Gerde’s shuttering their doors in the West Village in 1987.  Towards the end of their run, the building’s owners nearly tripled Gerde’s rent; they offered them a 15-year lease, but on the condition that they soundproof the venue, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to do.  Though no longer with us, Gerde’s lives on in our memories, and in the Folk City events the former owners produced after shuttering the venue.  The “Rolling Stone Book of Lists” even called Gerde’s Folk City one of the three top music venues in the world, along with The Cavern and CBGBs, the latter also a Village icon similarly no longer with us.  The Greenwich Village music scene has always stood as a testament to the neighborhood’s impact and importance in relation to the broader culture, and the continued prominence of Gerde’s reputation shows that the influence of the Village still remains even after these venues are gone.

15 responses to “Gerde’s Folk City: The End of a Greenwich Village Icon

  1. Bobby Dillon once approached me at Gerde’s to ask if my friend, Joanie Baez, then singing there, would listen to a song he’d written. Sure she said after her last set– we liked Bobby as a cute, second-hand Guthrie acolyte, a junior Ramblin Jack, good-natured and funny. The bar was closing (Damn, it *was* a bar, not a silly coffee shop), folks had all gone, so the three of us sat on the stoop outside the door and he borrowed Joanie’s guitar and sang “Hey hey, Woody Guthrie I wrote you this song…” We thanked him,then got in my 1948 S&S Cadillac hearse and drove to our friends on the upper West side, all the while saying, cute little Bobby.

    If it’s of interest to readers of this note, I can tell the anecdote of Joanie first listening to the un-cute Bob for the first time.

    1. Great story ! My friend Judy was at Gerde’s the night Bob Dylan announced his( first professional gig ?)( first record contract ?)- saying that his head had gotten too big for his cap !
      Judy dated Bob and there are several other stories … Judy and Bob are both about 83 years old … memories are getting fuzzy , but still worth re-telling.
      – Barbara W

  2. I was 19 in 1961 and stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard when I introduced my mess hall 1st class from rural Missouri to Gerdes.
    He liked it enough to get me transferred into a cush job for the balance of my enlistment. My dad let me know about Gerdes

  3. I saw Bob Dylan at Gerdes even before his first professional gig. It was late 1960 or early 1961, when he was there on one of their Monday night Hootenannies. I was sitting up close to the stage, and I remember thinking that he’s really good and I should remember his name. I did.

  4. I remember Dylan when he appeared during intermissions at Gerde’s. Gerde’s is where I first heard Jose Feliciano, Carolyn Hester, Peter Yarrow, The Clancy Brothers and many more that I am still listening to today. Thank you to Gerde’s for all the good memories.

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